For many, chocolate may seem like a guilty pleasure. However, you can have chocolate guilt-free while supporting your mental and general health. In this post, I’m going to explore why cacao is so beneficial and share an easy hot cacao recipe that will taste great, give you a mood boost, and won’t have the negative side effects that eating processed chocolate creates.
Nutrition Coach Philadelphia
Sarah Tronco, CMHIMP, is a Philadelphia Nutrition Coach specializing in mental nutrition. Sarah offers individualized mental health nutrition coaching that empowers you to make sustainable changes to improve your overall well-being.
A very brief history of chocolate…
Chocolate has a history that spans many civilizations. As far back as 4,000 years, chocolate was originally ingested as a bitter drink and was produced as early as 1900 B.C. in pre-Olmec cultures located in present-day Mexico. Because of it’s mood enhancing properties among Mayan, Olmec, and Aztec civilizations, it was considered to have spiritual and mystical properties. Fast forward to 1847 when the first edible chocolate bar with cacao powder, cacao butter, and sugar was produced by J.S. Fry and Sons, a British Chocolate company. The invention of the conching machine in 1979 set the stage for the mass production of chocolate today.1
General health benefits of cacao
Chocolate and cacao powder contain a high percentage of antioxidant molecules, mostly flavonoids, found primarily in the form of epicatechin.2 Some general health benefits of consuming cacao include:
-Reduced risk for diabetes by directly influencing insulin resistance3
-Protects nerves from injury and inflammation3
-Protects skin from oxidative UV damage3
-Improves cognitive function3
-Decreases risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease2
-Reduces stroke risk in humans2
Mood benefits of cacao
In addition to these general health benefits, cacao offers a range of mood benefits. Below I explore some of the components of cacao and describe their role in creating the amazing mood benefits of cacao.
One study of 13,000 adults in the US looked at self-reported depression symptoms using the PHQ-9, and compared the effects of consuming either no chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate. The individuals who consumed dark chocolate within the past day were 70% less likely to report depression. Milk chocolate or no chocolate did not produce any significant effect on levels of depression.4
Cacao contains theobromine. In a study of 24 women who ingested theobromine, participants indicated that they experienced strong feelings of calm afterward.5
N-acylethanolamines, also found in cacao, is a brain lipid that binds with cannabinoid receptors and imitates the psychoactive effect of cannabinoid drugs derived from plants6 and because of this, it can have anxiolytic and euphoric effects.
Phenylethylamine in cacao has been found to increase attention and relieve depression by causing the brain to release b endorphin, which is an opioid peptide.7Phenylethylamine is also considered to play a role as one of the chemicals involved with monogamy and love.7
Easy hot cacao recipe
One of the reasons I love raw cacao is because it’s pretty affordable, making it an accessible health booster. You also don’t need a ton of ingredients to make yourself a nice hot cup of cacao. Here’s a simple recipe you can follow:
1 tablespoon of raw cacao
1 teaspoon of maple syrup (you could use honey or stevia as well – amount will vary depending on what you choose)
1 cup of almond milk, or your milk of choice
You will mix these ingredients in a saucepan on low heat until it’s simmering, then put it in your favorite mug and enjoy once it’s cool enough to drink!
Note: hot cacao is pretty versatile. If you are adventurous, you can get creative and add additional ingredients like sea salt, cayenne pepper, vanilla, etc. If you aren’t adventurous but want some variety, a simple internet search will turn up plenty of interesting hot cacao recipes to try.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, provides online counseling in New Jersey and works to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with her clients, which helps to create a secure place where individuals can achieve meaningful change.